Chad Kuhl’s offseason was a little different than usual. With restrictions from the coronavirus pandemic barring him from getting work in at his usual offseason training spot -- his alma mater, the University of Delaware -- he had to pivot, and he found a local indoor facility where he could throw.
But it was also different in a good way. Last offseason, Kuhl was still in the final stages of working back from the Tommy John surgery he underwent in 2018, and he said he needed to get out of “rehab mode” then. Now, with his buildup work handled last season, he’s entered camp confident in his health and his abilities on the mound.
It wasn’t easy at the beginning, though. The morning after his first start of five innings back from surgery, against the Reds on Aug. 14, the soreness was harsh.
“It was tough just to brush my teeth,” he said. “It was just a struggle to get through that, and once I kind of broke through that ... I kind of kept building.”
Though he had to work to find results down the stretch, he showed how far his health and stuff had come by his final start, when he tossed seven shutout innings against the Cubs on a season-high 98 pitches.
Beyond Kuhl’s arm, manager Derek Shelton saw growth in his pitcher's mental strength.
“I thought we saw a much more mature, much more controlled, much more emotionally controlled Chad Kuhl,” Shelton said, “and I think that’s a sign of growth.”
The next step for Kuhl? Increase trust in his four-seamer. He relied heavily on his slider, which he called “old reliable” last season, pushing its usage to a career-high 34.5 percent of his total pitches thrown in 2020. Meanwhile, on the fastball side, he threw only 13 four-seamers to mix in with his 332 sinkers.
“So to be able to really attack and have both four-seam and two-seam and have that confidence to be in the zone and then to have that putaway stuff, obviously that’s going to be the next step in my development,” Kuhl said.
• Shelton said that reliever Austin Davis, who experienced soreness in his elbow this offseason, began his throwing program. General manager Ben Cherington doesn’t expect Davis to throw early in the Grapefruit League slate.
• Jose Soriano, who is on the 60-day injured list, threw from flat ground as he begins his journey back from Tommy John surgery performed last February.
• What’s Spring Training without a little bit of celebration? The Pirates had two reasons to rejoice on Tuesday: the birth of bullpen catcher Heberto Andrade’s grandson, Ivan, as well as the 40th birthday of Ryan Denlinger, manager of team travel.
“So it’s been a big day in camp,” Shelton said. “We had cupcakes.”